June 26, 2020

HAIM – Women In Music Pt. III (Haim Productions)

First and foremost: there is not a “Women In Music Pt. I” or “Pt. II”.  There is a lot of significance to the number “three” here, however, given the three sisters that make up HAIM (Este Haim, Danielle Haim, and Alana Haim), this being their third album, and likely other references that I’m not smart enough to get.  Regardless of nomenclature, though, this is a powerhouse of a pop album.

Women In Music Pt. III shines for all of the different areas that it touches and excels in.  From a funky beat on “Los Angeles” that would be at home in an early 90s hip-hop track, to something closer to a Fleetwood Mac track (“Up From A Dream”), HAIM hits all the literal and figurative notes.

I refuse to call HAIM a “girl group”, because that would insinuate that “boy groups” are on the same level, which the vast majority are not.  The sisters have not only matured their sound, but have truly expanded upon it here.  I will be doing them the justice that I should’ve done them years ago, and going back to check out their previous two albums.  I know they won’t be as good as Women In Music Pt. III, but they will still be a treat.

FFO: The Aces, MUNA

Khruangbin – Mordechai (Dead Oceans)

Khruangbin’s third studio album, Mordechai, is the soda that you put in the freezer for juuuuuust long enough, so you get those nice ice crystals while not freezing the thing totally solid.  We’re talking perfect levels of chill here.

There’s a lot of overlap inherent in the efforts to label music most of the time, and Mordechai is no exception.  Is it soul?  Is it psychedelia?  Funk?  Does it exist in the margins of all of that?  I dunno, man.  I’m no good at categorizing a thing, but I am good at knowing if I like a thing, and this is a thing that I know that I like.

Sure, Khruangbin is about five decades too late, but that’s what makes it so entertaining.  They’re one of the few games in town putting out anything remotely similar, and they can effectively corner the market – which they would probably do anyway, as this is a cut above what I would expect to hear from this style.  There’s lots of variability between tracks, yet still invoking a trademark sound.  Listen to “First Class” and “Father Bird, Mother Bird”, and you’ll see what I mean.  And also listen to them because they’re just good.

If you’re looking for vocals, then keep it movin’ – “Pelota” and “So We Won’t Forget” are great tracks, but two of the only jams with vocals.  There’s no need, as the album flourishes without.

Mordechai definitely won’t land with everyone since it’s a bit out there.  But if it’s in your wheelhouse, it will definitely resonate well with you.

FFO: Orions Belte, Babe Rainbow

LauvWithout You (AWAL Recordings America)

Lauv‘s latest EP, Without You, was admittedly not as bad as I expected.  But that’s because I was expecting the worst.  This is not good, don’t get me wrong, it’s just better than really, really bad.  Let’s meet in the middle and call it “really bad”.

Now, I’m not like some members of the Fairly KickAss crew, who may or may not have a vendetta against artists that they may or may not consider to be “sadbois” specifically, or “devoid of talent” more generally.  I did enjoy Lauv’s jam “fuck, i’m lonely”, as well as his big single “I Like Me Better”, and his single “Modern Loneliness” from earlier this year was one of my long-list favorites from this year so far.

However, you can safely pass on the Without You EP.  In fact, I heard that CERN is getting the Large Hadron Collider ramped back up, so maybe all the particle-y stuff that they’re doing will retcon Without You right out of the plane of existence!  We can only hope.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I took a small sample of lyrics from the various tracks on the EP.  I fully admit that it’s not fair to take lyrics out of context, especially if it’s being done to further a narrative of a mundane and boring release by a specific artist.  But when has decorum stopped me before?

“I wash my hair out in the shower”

“I crashed the car the other night/Inside the strangest dream I had/And I wonder what it means”

“Pants on fire, pants on fire”

“Dishes in the kitchen”

“It’s been a couple of days, I haven’t heard from you”

“You’re singing in the shower”

“All I wanted was to love somebody”

Me too, Lauv.  Me too.

FFO: Ruel, JP Saxe, gnash, if Pete Davidson ever decided to do a pop album I’m guessing it would sound like this

We Were Promised JetpacksOut Of Interest (Big Scary Monsters)

I don’t know about y’all, but I frequently forget about Scotland as a source of some pheonemal musical artists.  A very abbreviated list includes Belle & Sebastian, The Fratellis, the legendary Shirley Manson, Frightened Rabbit (RIP Scott Hutchison), and Biffy Clyro, who is a favorite among a few of the FKA crew.  I would absolutely add indie trio We Were Promised Jetpacks to that list.

If there’s one criticism of their latest EP, Out Of Interest, it’s that the damn thing is too short!  That should tell you exactly how good this EP is, if my only complaint is that there isn’t enough of it.  Lead vocalist Adam Thompson understands how to use his voice as a vehicle for the songs, instead of merely a component.  It comes off as another instrument, which is impressive in theory, and even more so in practice.

I actually have a second criticism: two of the tracks, “not wanted” and “Impossible”, were included on their 2018 studio release, The More I Sleep The Less I Dream.  Awesome tracks?  Sure.  But at the end of the day, it’s simply another side of the “I want more!” argument.  It’s tough to pick the best of the bunch with such a short tracklist, but “same mistakes” would be my standout track.

I hope you get those jetpacks soon, fellas.  And I hope we get some more tunes soon too.  I’m excited for whatever lies next, whether it be another EP or their fifth studio album.

FFO: The Twilight Sad, Biffy Clyro, Kaleo

Carach Angren – Frankenstein Stratamontanus (Season of Mist)

It would be tough to argue against black metal as the reigning king of thematics. While the story on this record gets a little occluded by the theatrical presentation, it is fairly obviously a retelling of Frankenstein, as Mary Shelley wrote it. More specifically, it is the story of Conrad Dippel, the real life inspiration to the aforementioned classic tale of monsters and madmen. This record is solidly centered on the concept of manufacturing monsters. 

In typical black metal fashion, they take it to extreme, dare I say “monstrous” levels, dotting the record with lyrics like, “…torture and rape, not stopping even in death.” (“Monster)

It should be noted that while one track is sung almost entirely in German, Carach Angren’s origins are indeterminable through the music or accent. At times they resemble the theatre of Cradle of Filth, at others, Pirates of Penzance. For the sake of clarification, they are Dutch.

If you can overlook (or enjoy) some of the more graphic and intense lyrical content, the drama and story of Frankensteina Stratamontanus are beautiful and well worth the listen. 

FFO: Cradle of Filth, Naglfar, and just a little Dog Fashion Disco

Ray Lamontagne – MONOVISION (Stone Dwarf)

This dude has a gift for coalescing the styles of EVERY GODDAMN ARTIST EVER. This is a quality that can be admired, NAY, lauded from the outermost wings.

That being said, he kind of lost me on this record. MONOVISION is Ray’s eighth studio album, following a string of production collaborations. He worked with alongside various acclaimed artist/producers like Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) and Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) on his last few albums, but for his newest effort, he decided to go it alone. This is slightly confusing, as his identity is difficult to find here. 

His usual raspy, Van Morisson-esque vocals are present, but there is something strange about it. Normally, his style-blending results in something like hearing him attempt to sound like other people. On MONOVISION, it feels more like other musicians trying to impersonate Ray. It’s disorienting. 

Are the songs good? Absolutely! There is nothing wrong with any of the music on the record. In fact, 2 of the songs, “I Was Born To Love You” and “We’ll Make It Through” would be my absolute favorite Tracy Chapman songs, and he sounds EXACTLY like her. Tracks “Roll Me Mama, Roll Me” and “Misty Morning Rain” could easily be Allman songs, with just a hint of Robert Plant on vocals. “Summer Clouds” is Jim Croce. “Rocky Mountain Healing” is John Denver

You get the idea. I can honestly say that this album is a great listen, with plenty of variety to keep you interested. His voice is strong and perfect. 

He just doesn’t sound like himself. 

FFO: read above

CeeLo Green – CeeLo Green Is Thomas Callaway (Easy Eye Sound)

Did you enjoy Goodie Mob?  What about Gnarls Barkley?  Did tracks like “Bright Lights Bigger City” and “Fuck You” do it for you?

Well, my friend, you’re about to be very disappointed, and then very delighted, in quick succession..

Because, you see, CeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway, and CeeLo Green Is Thomas Callaway is a fantastic introduction – or reintroduction – to the man beyond the persona.  This is nothing like the music that you’ve become accustomed to from Green – er, Callaway – and unlike many other artists who branch off to do the “new thing”, he knocks it out of the park.

The consummate showman Green is put on the bench, and the effortless crooner Callaway gets the call-up here.  Every track on this album is fresh out of a newly-unearthed time capsule.  “Doing It All Together” evokes the Four Tops, while “Thinking Out Loud” has serious vibes from The Delfonics and The Stylistics.  “People Watching” is a Stevie Wonder track that inexplicably ended up on a different artist’s album nearly 50 years later.

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